Cradled between the arid mountains of Indo-Tibetan border, Pangong Tso is one of the major attractions of Ladakh region. Also known as Pangong Lake, it certainly does wonders to the anxious eyes. A sharp contrast of the crystal clear, blue waters and the semi-brownish, snow-capped mountains at the backdrop, gives a picturesque frame to the already stunning landscape.
Situated at an altitude of about 4350m, the lake stretches across the border; of which one-third lies in the Indian territory and the rest in Tibet. Due to high altitude, the temperature at Pangong Tso remains mostly cold throughout the year. During winter, the lake freezes totally; making it possible to stroll over the frozen waters.
Despite the chilly climate, visitors take a day off and rest for the night. Several lakeside camping options with well-equipped facilities and amenities are available near the lake. Far from the tussle of industrialization, the night sky at Pangong Lake gives a clear, incredible view of the Milkyway galaxy.
Pangong Tso is a five hours drive from Leh. Due to its contiguity to the border, special Inner Line Permits (ILP) should be obtained from the TIC Office at Main market, Leh, before traveling to the lake.
Nestled at a height of 3048m, Nubra valley,a high altitude cold desert, is nestled beautifully between the Ladakh and Karakoram ranges. The Shyok River meets the Nubra (Siachen) River to form the dazzling moonscape. Green patches of vegetation at the heart of the valley make it look like an oasis. Local scholars say Nubra valley was originally named Ldumra, meaning ‘ the valley of flowers’.
The 14th-century monastery, Diskit Gompa, is the oldest monastery in the entire Ladakh region. One can get a panoramic glimpse of the whole Nubra valley. The ambiance around the monastery is so quiet, providing a perfect spot for meditation. Many Buddhist monks can be seen offering prayers and meditating. Samstanling Gompa is another monastery nearby.
Not far from the Diskit Monastery stands a 32m tall, gold plated statue of Maitreya Buddha. Facing towards Pakistan, this statue was constructed in the year 2006 with an objective of protecting the valley and promoting world peace.
Amidst the rugged mountains, orchards of apricots and the quite Nubra River, the magical white sand dunes of Hunder adds charm to the valley. Riding the double-humped Bactrian Camels, is an altogether different experience. Quad Biking over the smaller mounds is quite exhilarating and a miss not for adrenaline junkies. Evenings are meant for taking a stroll to nearby Turtuk and Panamik village, where one can experience the local hospitality.
Nubra valley is accessible from Leh, via two routes. The conventional route is through one of the highest motorable roads in the world, Khardung La. The other, less taken way is through the Wari La, which is certainly not for the faint-hearted. April-June and September-October are two best times to visit the alluring Nubra Valley for a rewarding experience.
Approximately 20km east of Leh, atop the hills of Thiksey village, the Thiksey Gompa is a twelve-story complex housing important Buddhist art and culture. Painted in red, ochre and white, it blends well with the surrounding landscape. Home to several monks, the complex houses two important temples;the Lamokhang Temple and the Tara Temple. The two-story tall Maitreya Buddha statue is a splendid piece of architecture. Adorned with exquisite marvels, it gives an amazing visual treat to the eyes. The Assembly Hall has many pictures, statues, and murals, showcasing the Buddhist teachings and practices. The Nunnery is a school for nuns.
Thiksey Monastery remains open from 7 am to 7 pm throughout the week. The early morning prayers held at the monastery gives a sense of divine feeling and refreshes one for the whole day.
Around 30km from Leh town, along the Leh-Kargil highway, a signboard reads ‘WELCOME TO MAGNETIC HILL’. Famous as the magnetic hill, the mystifying stretch of road has put people to wonder for ages. Surrounded by picturesque hill landscapes, it is well-known for defying gravity as it pulls stationary vehicles upwards the hill, even when the ignition is turned off.
Both villagers and researches propose their own set of beliefs and logic. The local residents of Ladakh believe that it was once a pathway to heaven; deserving people would be automatically pulled uphills, while the undeserving could never make up the path. Science has its own flavour of the story. The most widely accepted theory for this strange phenomenon is that there is no magnetic force behind it; rather it’s just an optical illusion deceiving the downslope as uphill. Putting aside the explainations, turn off your vehicles and start the uphill ride.
Nearby the signboard, a yellow box painted on the road. Park vehicle within the box in neutral gear and one can notice it moving slowly at the speed of nearly 20kmph. Proper instruction is described on the board on how to experience this magnetic phenomenon on it’s own.
Perched atop the Namgyal Hills, the majestic Leh Palace, also known as ‘Lachen Phalkar’, once housed the royalties of the erstwhile Leh kingdom. Though smaller in dimension, the majestic edifice resembles the Potala Palace of Lhasa, Tibet. Built in 17th century, the 9-stoey grand structure is one of the tallest buildings of its time and is an example of excellent medieval Tibetan architecture. Due to the Kashmiri invasions in the 19th century, a considerable part of the palace is in ruins now. The Archaeological Survey of India is working on renovating and restoring the palace, which still stands in pride depicting the vast heritage of Leh. Few corridors, rooms, compartments and carved entrance still exist in their original glory.
The walls of the palace are beautifully adorned with artistic paintings, murals, ancient Buddhist relics and artifacts used by the royalties; which in itself speaks of its bygone golden era. Bigger rooms and corridors have turned to exhibition halls.
Another important attraction is the Victory Tower, which commemorates the bravery of the Ladakhi soldiers fighting the incoming Balti Kashmiri invaders. The palace provides spectacular views of the Ladakh mountain ranges, as well as the whole of Leh town.